Archive for September, 2013


Worth the Risk: Reflections on Cross-Cultural Parenting

September 20, 2013

This situation happens to me nearly daily: Ada and I enter a random store. About five female employees that I’ve never met before surround Ada squealing, “Oh, cute foreigner baby! Look at her eyelashes! She’s so chubby!” One of said employees grabs her and picks her up. Ada screams and squirms, desperately trying to get out of the strangers’ grasp. The employee scowls, “Baby, you’re such a mean baby, you won’t let anyone touch you!” I pick Ada up and politely say, “Ada, it’s time to go shopping now. Say bye bye to Auntie!” We continue shopping, ignoring the girls who follow us around the store pinching Ada’s feet.


I love learning about different cultures and worldviews. I believe that, like humans, every culture is created by God and bears his beautiful image, but because of sin, there are aspects of every culture that are broken and in need of redemption. As I try to do with humans, I try to always assume the best about Cambodian culture, even when it differs so far from my own. I know that these sales girls just think that Ada is cute and want to touch her and love her. I know that they do the same thing to their own nieces and nephews and they just want her to reciprocate their affection. I know that ‘personal boundaries’ aren’t the same here. Unfortunately, I still see the world through my own Canadian worldview glasses, and in these situations I invariably think to myself, “Why can’t they respect her space? Isn’t it obvious that she doesn’t like what they’re doing? And they’re strangers! Why are they calling her names? If I made a kid cry, I would apologize for my own inappropriate actions, not blame her for being mean.”


In theory, I love the idea of incarnational cross-cultural living. In theory, I would love it if Ada grew up to speak fluent Khmer, have tons of Khmer friends, and eat rice instead of pizza. There are so many beautiful things about this nation that I hope she holds in her heart and uses to inform her understanding of the world.


But sometimes I get scared and want to protect her from it all. I want to boycott all stores with baby-obsessed employees. I want to plug her ears when they call her names. I want to run home from the neighbour’s house when all the kids are offered unhealthy snacks. Some of these things are value-neutral and simply reflect my own upbringing and preferences. However, some of the things she is exposed to might be antithetical to BOTH my Western upbringing AND the kingdom of God.


We feel fortunate that by moving overseas, Ada is removed from some of the vices of Western culture, particularly certain forms of materialism, consumerism, advertising, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could raise her to experience only the best parts of Western culture and the best parts of Khmer culture, while avoiding all the bad stuff of both??

But there’s a risk in bringing children into the world, and it’s the same risk that God made when he created humans with free will. Cambodia is not our ‘home’, as much as Canada is not our home, as much as the earth is not our home. While I might run the risk of baby-pinching and name-calling every time I leave the house, you run risks when letting kids watch movies or go to the mall. In creating humanity, God ran the risk of people rejecting him so completely that he would have to send his son to die for them. Yet for some crazy reason, God thought it was worth the risk .